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Value-Add for Printers : Make Money with QR Codes

April 2011 By Heidi Tolliver-Nigro
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Everywhere you turn these days, it seems that people are talking about QR (Quick Response) codes. These 2D barcodes connect people instantly to the Web using free QR readers on their cell phones. They are showing up on magazine advertisements, posters, billboards, CD cases, shelf talkers, packaging—just about everything. But, are they a fad? Or are they an important part of the marketing mix? If they're an important part of the mix, how do you sell them?

Technology leaders have recognized for some time that QR codes will play an important role in print marketing. They have long been ubiquitous in South Korea and Japan as a standard response mechanism to marketing campaigns. Just as you would add an 800 number, a tear-out form or a URL, you can add a QR code as a way for people to respond. Because these codes are read by the cameras on mobile phones, people can respond to the offer instantly.

QR codes have been in use in the United States for some time, but they are just now starting to hit critical mass. Large brand marketers began embracing QR codes several years ago and the list of those using them reads like a Who's Who of marketing: Best Buy, Time, Calvin Klein, Louis Vitton, Pepsi, YouTube, Facebook, the NFL, TIAA-CRAF, Ford and the list goes on.

Ready for Blastoff

"Once QR readers become standard on smart phones, we'll see QR codes become ubiquitous," predicts Jeff Stewart, chief technical officer at Rockford, IL-based Trekk Cross-Media, which has been using QR codes in campaigns for years. Trekk adds QR codes "whenever possible" and was behind the ubiquitous QR-coded t-shirts worn by NewPage employees at the recent Dscoop 2011 conference. "By the end of the year, more than 50 percent of all cell phone sales will be smart phones. That's when QR codes will really take off."

The benefit to printers and their clients? Whether it's a magazine ad or a point-of-sale engagement, QR codes provide an instant way for people to find out more information or take advantage of a special offer using the device that is most likely already in their hands. For event-based marketing (like trade shows), the goal is often to get people engaged with the booth holder and start a conversation.

When asked what percentage of Trekk's campaigns include QR codes, Stewart was at a loss for words. "Oh, wow, a very high percentage," he says. "Most of our campaigns are promotional. With those, we are looking to establish a call to action for a single person or group of people. If there is any way for us to take advantage of QR codes, we will."

How to Monetize QR Codes

If you are going to monetize QR codes independently, outside of the value of the larger campaign, there are several places you can start:

1. Test—Test the functionality of the code. Use different phones and different QR code readers.

2. Track—Using URL shorteners like or, as well as proprietary software, you can track which hits come to your clients’ pages via QR code as opposed to another source.

3. Brand—Using Photoshop, you can brand your clients’ QR codes with their company logos.

4. Vary functionality—Although there are free options for varying QR code functionality (like embedding business card information, launching pre-populated e-mail and recording event dates in the phone’s calendar), these are lesser-known features and offer an opportunity to add value.

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